Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Really Causes Divisions

     The Corinthian Church members had slipped into a pattern of choosing up sides, forming cliques, being more concerned with their own private lives than the cause of Christ and the salvation of the lost. They were what I like to term "California Christians," emphasizing the meaningless and unimportant aspects of life, while ignoring the truly significant matters, dividing up and squabbling instead of coming together to serve God effectively. In dealing with this disunity problem, which was more damning and damaging to the cause of Christ than the shallow thinking Corinthians ever realized, Paul subjected himself and his ministry to close examination. In doing so he proved, in his own case and for thousands of spiritual leaders since Paul, that if the message and the methods of one's ministry are proper, disunity in the Church, divisiveness among the people, cannot be blamed on the spiritual leadership.
     Those same criteria must be used nowadays. If there is no unity in the body, or if unity is under siege in the body, and both the message and the methods of God's man are consistent with Biblical guidelines, then he has done his job. Therefore, if fault does not lie with spiritual leadership, we must ask whose fault is it when unity has been disrupted? Is it God's fault? No! If it is not a leadership problem then disunity, disharmony, lack of contentment, whatever you want to call it, must be a followship problem. First Corinthians 3.1-2 reveals where the fault for disunity really lies: "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." In a phrase, disunity in the Corinthian Church was caused by carnality among the members. Though disunity can conceivably be the fault of the pastor, Paul's analysis of the situation has concluded that such is not the case he was dealing with. When disunity results from carnality in the lives of the members of the Church, two comments made by Paul can bring understanding of the situation that God will use to effect a genuine healing, a real repentance of sin.


"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ."

     Paul is inspired of the Holy Spirit of God to draw a parallel between the spiritual and the physical realm.  The Christian who is temporarily unspiritual or carnal, though he may have been converted for some time, is still a spiritual baby. Some of the marks which identify carnality in a Christian are as follows: #1, a period of perpetual conflict and repeated defeat. #2, a period of protracted infancy and retarded spiritual growth. #3, a period of fruitlessness and worldliness. Have you ever had periods of time in your life when these marks identified you? If so, then you have had some times of spiritual stagnation and carnality.
     Other marks identify spirituality: #1, a life of perpetual conflict and repeated victory. The Christian life is a life of spiritual conflict. The spiritual Christian is the one who realizes that whimpering does little good, so he faces the battles head on and he fights the good fight. #2, a life of progressive growth and Christ-likeness. There is only one reason why folks experience times without a significant amount of spiritual growth and maturation. That reason is sin. Christianity is an overcoming lifestyle. Only sin stunts its growth. #3, a life of fruit bearing and separation. This is making disciples, getting folks saved, then baptized, and training them to observe what Christ has commanded. It is moving from worldly things and toward the Lord God.


     Lest you think that carnality is without consequences in the life of the believer, read what Paul wrote in verse 2: "I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able." Consider the problems carnality causes.
     Carnality causes problems for spiritual leaders. You simply cannot pass through a season of carnality in your Christian life without it having a direct impact on a spiritual leader's life and ministry. Never mind the physical and emotional consequences in his life when you are sinful, when you are unresponsive. Frustration, feelings of despair that come from wrestling with whether or not some of his problems might be your fault, anger, resentment, and always fighting the temptation to slip into bitterness. The mature minister must set these very real matters aside. What cannot be set aside is the fact that dealing with carnal Christians takes extra time. You cannot feed carnal Christians the standard menu diet of spiritual meat. Oh no. You have to prepare milk for them. Why? Because they are so sensitive to being offended, and because they are so insensitive to spiritual illumination, they simply take longer to teach things that spiritual Christians grasp quickly. What about personal accountability to Christ? Read Hebrews 13.17: "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." The carnal Christian, according to the message of this verse, can steal a spiritual leader's joy and putt grief in its place. Can the carnal Christian justifiably maintain that his or her spiritually childish behavior, refusing to faithfully attend Church, refusing to give to the cause of Christ for some drummed up lame excuse, refusing to allow the Holy Spirit to work in his or her life, does not affect the pastor? Absolutely not! If the Word of God is considered, that believer would have to admit that he has a considerable effect on his Church's ministry, and none of it good. You know what else? The carnal Christian oftentimes continues in that selfish sin even though he has no right to affect other people's lives that way. But then, being carnal, he does not care about other people.
     Carnality causes problems for those who are carnal, as well. Sin hinders, if it does not completely block, the consumption of rich spiritual nutrition. When a person does not receive truth from that person God chooses and has called to be the conduit through which such truth is conveyed, which is to say, when a Christian is not spiritual enough to listen to and learn from God's man, he is going to be malnourished. James 1.21: "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls." According to this verse, a carnal person's ears are stopped, and we know that he can become spiritually cold, apathetic and self-centered. As Christians we need to be taught, trained and encouraged to dwell together in unity. Tragically, the carnal Christian is an unreceptive listener. So, does carnality cause problems for the carnal Christian? As we have seen, it certainly does. I have not even mentioned the consequences carnal Christians face at the judgment seat of Christ.

     Thanks be to God for personal responsibility. Without personal responsibility we would have no hope of maintaining Church unity. What hope would there be of raising your children properly, parents, without you assuming personal responsibility for raising your kids? Oh, you could always blame this, that, or the other person, but would that help your son or daughter? No. You are personally responsible for raising your children. In like manner are you, individually, held responsible by God for unity within your Church. Oh, you can always blame someone for this and someone for that, but that only creates animosity. People object to being held responsible for those things they have no power to control or correct.
     So it was when Paul was considered by some to be the reason the Corinthian Church was not experiencing unity. In fact, as we have seen, Paul's ministry was a unifying force in the Church and did not contribute to the divisions they were experiencing. Rather, it was those members themselves who were the problems. When Christians admit that disunity results from their own individual carnality, from their own personal immaturity, and that it hinders their personal growth and nourishment, then and only then is there hope for unity in that Church.
     Are you carnal? Are you the cause of difficulties in your congregation, instead of being the solution, the unifying force? Are you still a spiritual baby, when you ought to be more mature? In what ways are you enhancing your Church's spirituality and outreach effectiveness? If you are carnal you need to admit it. Admit it to God and begin to diligently strive for growth and maturity. Second Peter 1.5-11 provides guidance along that line, with diligence in the living of your Christian life being the key to enjoying great success. Do you want your Church to be a very happy family, a very harmonious congregation? Then do what the Corinthian Church members initially did not do. They were a divided congregation because of what they did not do. They did not pay close attention to the preacher, expecting God to bless and feed them through his ministry. However, when Timothy delivered Paul's first Corinthian letter they responded in a manner that pleased God.